Woolworths goes into administration

28 11 2008
woolworthsThe high street retailer Woolworths, fondly known as Woolies, has been forced to go into administration after it failed to find a buyer to snap it up for a nominal £1. So, why didn’t anybody buy it, surely £1 for a whole company seems like a bargain? That’s because the buyer would have not only acquired Woolworth’s assets (things it owns), but also its huge liabilities (money it owes), £385 million to be exact.

So, what is administration and when does a business go into administration? With regards to business, it is when a business doesn’t have enough funds to trade, also known a cash flow crisis. Cash flow is not the same as profitability of a business, but refers to the cash flowing into and out of the business. If cash coming in is less than the cash going out, then the cash flow is negative and it means that the business does not have enough funds to meet the current liabilities, like creditors and suppliers.

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However, going into administration isn’t still the end of the story for Woolworths. In fact, administrators, in this case the accountancy firm Deloitte, protect the company from creditors seizing stock to pay off the money that is owed to them. The administrators are trying to find a buyer for Woolworths, failing which it will be forced to go into liquidation. This is where the administrators try to sell off the assets to recover any money they can to pay off the debts. Woolworths competitors are dreading this because although it will mean less competition in the long term, since there is one less player in the market, in the short term, it will mean a price war during Christmas as the administrators will slash prices to sell off all the stock.

So, is the reason for Woolworth’s difficulties due to the credit crunch? Well, the increase in household bills has meant that consumers are spending less. This is evident from the fact that Woolworth’s like-for-like sales have decreased whereas their costs have increased leading to increased losses. Many analysts say that Woolworth’s difficulties should come as no surprise, as Woolworths didn’t have a clear brand image, what its brand stood for, and its purpose in the market. Additionally, suppliers of Woolworths found it expensive to insure themselves against the risk that it wouldn’t be able to pay them and hence, Woolworths had to pay upfront for the supplies, unable to take advantage of buying on credit that some of its competitors enjoy.

Woolworths has around 815 stores and employs around 30,000 employees. If the business does go into liquidation, all these employees stand to lose their jobs. Also, the businesses that supply to Woolworths will also suffer losses. The question many people are asking is why isn’t the Government bailing Woolworths out, after all, it did bail out the banks. Well, the Government can’t bailout every business in difficulty; it’s a natural business process where the one with the weakest business model fails hence making the others stronger due to decreased competition.

Other than its retail business, Woolworths Plc. also owns Entertainment UK and 2Entertain. Entertainment UK specialises in the supply of CDs and DVDs to retailers such as Tesco, Zavvi, W H Smith, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and of course Woolworths itself. EUK is said to be a profitable business and the administrators are looking for a buyer for it as well. If EUK is shut down, it will no doubt affect the retailers it supplies, especially during the crucial trading period of Christmas. BBC Worldwide and Woolworths Plc., on the other hand jointly own 2Entertain, and there are talks of BBC Worldwide buying Woolworth’s share of the business.
It has also been reported that MFI is also going into administration, and it looks like a few more will follow, certainly after Christmas. If you want to see Woolworth’s Interim report for 2008, click here.





First the Chancellor giveth, then the Chancellor taketh away.

25 11 2008

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling

Yesterday, the Chancellor Alistair Darling announced in his Pre-Budget Report the much talked about 2.5% cut in the VAT, bringing it down to 15% from 17.5%. In the same breath, he also announced an increase in income tax for those earning £140,000 and above. From April 2011, people falling into this income bracket will have to pay income tax at the rate of 45p.

The cut in VAT is to come into effect from the 1st of December. This leaves ample time for businesses to revise their prices and change the all the labels in the stores, but at the same time, being just in time before the Christmas shopping.

So, how will the change affect the prices? Will a loaf of bread or a bunch of carrots be any cheaper? No, because food products do not attract VAT. Surely, utility bills as a result will go down. Sadly, no because the VAT on utilities such as gas and electricity already have a lower rate of VAT charged at 5%. A cut of 2.5% doesn’t look as if it will make a huge difference in prices, especially compared to the generous 20%, 35%, 40% discounts offered by the retailers already.

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Then, the motive behind the cut is to give confidence to the consumers to go out and spend. But, confidence cannot be used to pay for a brand new PlayStation 3, can it? You need something else, namely, money. The primary reason why people are spending less money on the high street is because they have very little surplus left over after paying the high utility and food bills. And those who have enough surplus choose to save it for a rainy day.

That’s because it’s almost impossible to see a news report nowadays without it mentioning yet another company announcing job cuts. This creates uncertainty among those who are employed about the security of their jobs. Those who have recently been made redundant have no choice but to save money. But those who have a job also save since they don’t know how they are going to put food on the table next month or meet their mortgage repayments.

Another thing that’s hard to miss in a news report is an interview with the boss of a SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) business who has been denied a loan from his bank, or has had his overdraft facility cancelled. This leads to cash flow problems which means the business cant pay its staff, pay its utility bills, or even buy raw materials to maintain production. In addition, creditors, who owe money to the business, are unable or reluctant to part with their money. As a result, staff numbers have to be cut down adding to the number of unemployed across the country.

How can such news create confidence?

Perhaps, the Chancellor should look at reducing the VAT temporarily on utilities, or even get rid of them for the time being. More importantly perhaps, he should make sure that SMEs, who are perfectly healthy, should have access to loans and overdrafts at a reasonable cost to maintain their cash flow. After all, the SMEs are not asking for charity, just for funds which they are prepared to pay back with due interest. It makes sense for the Government to ensure that businesses that are perfectly sound to not go bankrupt just because they do not have enough cash or credit to meet their current liabilities. After all, the SMEs employ a lot of people in the private sector of the economy and contribute to the Treasury in the form of National Insurance and Corporation Tax. Since people are employed, it saves the Government the trouble of have to pay job seekers allowance, hence reducing its outflow.

So, it is perhaps job security and income security that will encourage the consumers to go out and spend, as Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown along with countless retailers are eagerly hoping, fingers crossed.

But it seems highly unlikely that the cut in VAT will have the intended purpose of instilling confidence among the consumers and going on a spending spree, but for the sake of the economy and the countless people who are unemployed, lets hope its not all in vain. The high earners are certainly hoping for it, since they are going to be paying for it, come 2011.

http://www.moolanomy.com/998/money-hacks-carnival-39/

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Spend, Spend, Spend

19 11 2008
christmas-shoppingAccording to recent figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the value of total UK sales as of October 2008 were down 2.2% on a like-for-like basis as compared to last year. Food and Drink was the only sector to have shown an increase in sales. Consumers are cutting back and postponing purchases that are not needed and focusing on the wants instead. Buying patterns are changing as well since many now prefer to cook at home from scratch and are focusing on products that offer them value for money and are actually actively seeking out promotions, discounts and offers.

This is bad news for retailers who are desperately depending on Christmas sales this year more than ever. No wonder then that for many high street retailers, Christmas has indeed come early this year. Discounts and promotions which are normally seen after Christmas are beginning to make their way into stores at a high street near you- five weeks before Christmas.

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Leading the way is Debenhams, who is having a “spectacular” three-day sale, starting today, where many of the products are going to be 20-25% cheaper. But its Marks & Spencer who is receiving the most attention and media coverage for its “20 % off” sale for only one day-tomorrow. Other high street retailers are likely to join the battle to fight for every penny of the consumer’s disposable income this season. In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, more and more such promotions will come out to entice people to come in and spend their money.

But, as Gillian Lacey-Solymar pointed out on BBC’s Working Lunch, these promotions are likely to happen on weekdays. This is because the promotions are meant to draw people into the stores, which they do anyways on weekends, and so there is no point offering them heavy discounts then if they are likely to settle for less.

It is highly unlikely that these promotions will have a huge impact since people will only buy it if they perceive it as value for money and more importantly, if it is on the top of their priority list. The truth is, people are still being squeezed by rising utility prices and high food prices. Also, almost every other day a well known business announces job cuts which is likely to make those still in employment worry about their security and hence, save every penny they can.

Undoubtedly, all these promotions are good for the consumers. But, offering such huge discount means that retailers are effectively cutting their profit margins, or sometimes even making a loss just to shift their stock. What this means is that in the long term, many retailers will not be able to sustain themselves and it will not be financially viable for them to operate any longer, and hence will go bust.

So what? Well, this would result in job losses, numerous suppliers losing their orders and so on. When the economy does recover, it will mean one less competitor in the marketplace and hence, less competitive prices.

So, in the short term, the promotions are good for the consumers, in the long term however, maybe not.

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Children help their parents spend their money

14 11 2008
David Beckham in a Motorola advertisement

David Beckham in a Motorola advertisement

According to recent news, parents are unwittingly spending £191 million a year to fund their children’s shopping habits. Or rather, the children are doing it for them on their behalf to save their parents the trouble of doing so. According to a survey consisting of 500 parents and 500 children, around 20%, or 1 in every 5, children have admitted to using their parents’ credit card for their online purchases.

The items in the shopping basket include the latest electronics, games, etc. Put simply, items that are on every child’s wish list. The age of the children ranges from 8 to 16 years and the value of the average purchase is said to be around £25. Of the parents surveyed, only 2% felt that their children would purchase goods online without their permission. 20% of the children also knew their parents’ username and password for their shopping websites. This made it easy for them to access their accounts and place orders.

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The recent strain being put on personal finances due to the rise in prices and unemployment would have undoubtedly led to parents cutting back their spending on buying the latest gadgets and gizmos and branded fashion accessories for their children. This means that the children feel “left out” when all their peers have the latest mobile phone or mp3 player and they are stuck with the “old” one.

Certain companies prey on this insecurity that the children harbour by pressurising them to purchase, or rather pester their parents to purchase the products that are endorsed by their “heroes” whom they “look up to”. The advertising method is such that it sends out the message to youngsters that a brand name is much more important than they product itself. It is endorsed by a well-known celebrity and therefore it’s cool and fashionable to own it and most certainly well worth the expensive price tag.

Often, the prices of these products are 2-3 times the price of their unbranded, store own-brand or less known branded counterparts. The obvious reason for this is that it allows the companies to “skim” the market, or in other words, pricing their products higher than the competitors since they know that the consumers will still want to buy them.

In August this year, The Association of Teachers and Lecturers expressed concern when their research showed that children who didn’t have the latest gadgets or wear garments that didn’t sport a fashionable logo were often bullied and mocked by their peers.

The report also highlighted how “brand aware” the children are and how in the race to be up-to-date, they end up having low self esteem and self confidence because their “net worth” or “net value” amongst their peers is judged by the brands they own.

In essence, what these companies are doing is “adding value” to a product by merely associating it with their brand. So, what you end up paying for is the brand. Of course, many might argue that many branded products do offer good value for money because they are of a better build quality. And what you get in return for the premium charged is peace of mind that the product will last. No doubt, this is true. But then, this isn’t true in all cases.

Interestingly, 30% of the parents’ admitted to saving their banking details online.
If the children can easily access them, just imagine how easy it might be for a fraudster to access the details. Then the orders might not be for £25, but more like £2500.

http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5i_9ZhcHk7F5v3WAReNAjjeFmrMxg
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7549770.stm
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Profits at Starbucks go Skinny Latte

12 11 2008


Starbucks Coffee House

Starbucks Coffee House

Starbucks Share PriceProfits for the coffee chain Starbucks fell by 97% in the fourth quarter to $5.4 million, as compared to $158.5 million this time last year. Although the sales revenue were up 3% to $2.52 billion, like for like sales actually decreased by 8%.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise then since consumers are cutting back on what they deem “luxuries” and are more cautious about their spending and are literally watching their pennies. Starbucks is perhaps well known for its high prices as much as it is for its coffee. Its share price dropped by 3% after the news broke out and was trading at $9.91. Last year, it would have been worth around $20-$30.Starbucks said that it has seen a decrease in customer traffic, in other words the number of customers visiting its branches, and also, crucially, the value of each transaction per customer. So, it is likely that the increase in sales revenue is likely to be due to the increase in prices.

Although drinking coffee is one of life’s little pleasures, its prices in the cafés are anything but little. A cup of coffee for $4 or £2.50 may seem insignificant on its own, but multiply them up for every working day of the month and you are left with a sizeable figure. Starbucks could lower its prices, but it is seen as a premium brand and would as a result devalue its brand value. Think of Marks & Spencer’s food range competing on its prices with Tesco’s Value range or Sainsbury’s Basic range and you get the picture about devaluing the brand value.

It’s likely that other coffee chains like Café Nero and Costa Coffee would now be worried about their own situation while the likes of McDonald’s will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of attracting coffee drinkers with their cheap prices. McCoffee anyone?

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Meeting with Headteacher Darling.

8 11 2008
Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Image from TimesOnline

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Image from TimesOnline

Since many of the banks had seemed to have failed to pass on the Bank of England’s very generous 1.5% cut in interest rate to their customers on the Standard Variable Rate (SVR) mortgages, the mischievous bankers were summoned to a meeting with the head teacher, a.k.a., Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were told to pass on the interest rate cut to their customers, or else, face detention.

A standard variable rate is where the interest rate is tracked by the lender, solely at its discretion, to the base rate of the Bank of England or the LIBOR rate. So, the obvious excuse that the bankers gave for not passing on this cut was that the cost of borrowing money on the open market, i.e., the LIBOR rate, had not come down at the same rate. That’s true, although the LIBOR rate did drop by 1.07% from 5.56% to 4.49% on Friday. The lowest rate since May 2004, incase you thought why it was that significant.

Bowing to pressure, Lloyds TSB, Halifax, Nationwide, Abbey, Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest (part of Royal Bank of Scotland), Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley have all cut the interest rate by a full 1.5%. Also, the fact that the LIBOR rate has fallen makes it hard for the banks to justify their reluctance to pass on the cut.

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Usually, the banks are quite quick to match a hike in interest rate by the Bank of England because it allows them to justify doing so. However, they don’t seem so keen when the rate is cut.

The opposite is true for the savings rate. Most banks have been more than happy to cut the interest rates on their savings account using the recent cut in rates by the Bank of England as the justification. This hardly seems like the right thing to do when banks are desperate for funds to lend and one of the sources is the deposits by the customers, the other being borrowing on the open market. Since its expensive to borrow on the open markets, as the banks themselves are saying, they should be trying to entice customers to deposit money.

But what’s amusing is that Alistair Darling and his advisors actually assumed that the banks would pass on the cut to their customers. Why would they? They are not charitable institutions that work for the best interests of their customers. They are financial institutions whose main aim is to make profit and make their shareholder’s investment in them worthwhile. Lets not forget that banks all across the globe have lost billions, if not trillions, of pounds in the financial crisis. So, it is but obvious that they would try hard as they could to make up for the loss.

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No wonder then that people have literally started to stuff cash under their mattresses. The chief executive of G4S, the security transport company, Nick Buckles, recently said that the amount of cash in the system had increased since people are preferring to use cash instead of credit. It emerged recently that the number of £50 notes in circulation had increased by 20%.

He added, “People use it as a means of budgeting. They don’t like credit, so clearly there’s more cash transactions, more ATM transactions. And I guess the £50 note issue is people hoarding cash at home.”

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Bank of England cuts base rate by 1.5%. But who will it help?

6 11 2008

The Bank of England (BoE) cut the base rate of borrowing money by a staggering 1.5% to 3% in a bid to stimulate lending and as a result stimulate spending. Well, we’ll have to wait and see if that happens. The people that will benefit from this cut are those who have tracker mortgages since this will mean a possible cut in their interest rates and their repayments.

For some, the decrease in the repayments might mean the difference between being able to meet the repayments and having their homes repossessed.

The market had definitely expected a cut in the interest rate, but of about 0.5%, not 1.5%. So, who will benefit from the cut? Not many, especially after how the banks literally scrambled to withdraw most of their tracker mortgage deals. A tracker mortgage is one with a variable rate of interest, which is above the base rate of the Bank of England by a set percentage either for the whole period of the mortgage or a period of time. The benefit of this is that when the rate goes down, so does the interest rate, and vice-versa when the rate goes up. However, some tracker deals will not track the base rate after it falls to a certain level or a minimum level, which is known as a “collar”. Halifax, for example, has a “collar” of 3%, which means that a further cut will not be beneficial to its customers.

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This means that first time buyers who were planning to get on the property ladder will have to look elsewhere. Its already beginning to look like the cut in the base rate has failed to do one of the main things it was supposed to do- enable first time buyers to buy properties. If first time buyers are unable to buy properties, this will certainly come as a blow for the construction industry since it means that their properties will remain empty and they will have to impetus or money to build new properties.

So, why have the banks been so quick in withdrawing their tracker mortgages? To protect their other more profitable mortgage deals, of course. Banks charge interest on their mortgages based not on the BoE’s base rate, but on the LIBOR (London Inter Bank Offered Rate). That’s the rate at which banks lend and borrow from one another. While the base rate has been steadily coming down, the LIBOR has proved to be more sticky, hardly budging at all. According to the data from www.thisismoney.co.uk, the LIBOR for the past four weeks has been between 6.28% and 5.68%. Much above the Bank of England’s base rate.

This means that tracker mortgages have a smaller profit margin than the other deals due to the vast difference in the interest rates. Clearly, deals whose rate are based on the LIBOR are much more profitable for the banks and it should then come as no surprise that they are withdrawing the tracker mortgages.

Another group of people who are likely to lose out are those who depend on the income they get from the interest they get on their savings.

Many people were praying, and certainly many more were hoping for a cut in the interest rate to provide them with some respite in these difficult times. While the cut might be a boon for them, for others, not so much.

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